Military Promises Changes

Military Promises Changes The military promised changes in the way it operates a southern New Jersey target range after several 20mm rounds fired by an F-16 jet fighter on a nighttime training mission hit an elementary school last week.

Maria Falca-Dodson, deputy adjutant general for the New Jersey National Guard, told a meeting of residents and officials from towns surrounding the Warren Grove Range that things will be done differently after a military investigation is completed within four to six weeks.

"I assure you we will not reopen the range without some changes being made once we get those results," she said Wednesday night. "We're leaving no stone unturned. We are looking at pilot procedures, equipment, range procedures and airspace issues."

It has not been determined whether the weapon discharged due to pilot error or mechanical malfunction. No decisions concerning the 9,416-acre range have been made, said Brian E. Rumpf, a member of Little Egg Harbor's governing body.

"I think we need to consider all parameters for purposes of discussion, from keeping the range in its current form of operation, to changing it, to closing the range," Rumpf said.

Col. Brian Webster, commander of the 177th Fighter Wing of the New Jersey Air National Guard, told residents and officials the incident was a fluke that would not be repeated.

"I can assure everyone in this room that we do not target schools," he said. "What happened here was an accident."

No one was injured in the Nov. 3 incident when about eight of 25 rounds fired from an F-16 struck the Little Egg Harbor Intermediate School at about 9 p.m. The school is about 31/2 miles from the range. A custodian was the only person in the part of the building that was hit, officials said.

Other recent incidents involving the range, which opened during World War II, also have raised community concerns. Off-target practice bombs were blamed for forest fires in the surrounding Pine Barrens in 1999 and 2002. A New Jersey Air National Guard F-16 that had been practicing surface attacks at the range crashed along the Garden State Parkway after its pilot ejected safely in 2002. No one on the ground was injured.

The single-seat jet in last week's incident was from the 113th Wing of the District of Columbia Air National Guard, based at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland.

Activities at the range, now operated by the National Guard, have been suspended pending completion of the investigation, District of Columbia guard spokesman Staff Sgt. Lorenzo Parnell said Wednesday.

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Author: NBC10/AP

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